One of the biggest hurdles I have started to overcome is returning to education. I have forever wanted to go back to school after my stroke but was never sure if I could do it. I had changed. Not just physically but I was now dealing with emotional difficulties. I now experienced anxiety and the very thought of being around 'normal' people scared me; would they think that I was weird? That my speech is funny? Or think that I was too different?
As most of you know I had just finished my first year of A Levels; I was studying Psychology, Biology, Chemistry and English. I hadn't done too awful I guess, I had got a B, a C, D and E.
Then I had my stroke and my education was put on hold... for 3 years to be exact. It was incredibly heart-breaking for me. Here I was, lying in hospital and all my friends and schoolmates were in class, studying. They probably didn't feel like it but they were the lucky ones.
After the first 6 months in hospital, my parents brought in my psychology and biology textbooks and my neuropsychologist would then set me homework out of them. Ok, it was only answering the questions but it helped. I felt like a 17 year old again. I felt a bit more 'normal'.
Just before I was discharged my neuropsychologist arranged a meeting with me, my dad and the teachers in charge of sixth form and learning support too at my school.
It went really well. They promised to do so much to help me; their aim was to get me back into studying as best they could. I was kind of excited in fact.
The meeting happened end of July and I returned later that year in September. Like anyone returning to school, the nerves set in and sleep did not come easily the night before. So many thoughts ran through my mind, I was too scared. No, I had to do this.
My first week back at school was a mixture of feelings. I was scared. I was lonely. All my friends had moved on, gone to university.
Back then I still needed a wheelchair to get around as my walking was still weak, so naturally, I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was embarrassed. My stroke had left me a shy, timid little girl but now being in this environment, I felt exposed and even more awkward.
By Wednesday though, those feelings had subsided a little and I had got used to being back. Strangely, it felt kinda normal.
I was sat in the library when my old english teacher walked past me and said, and I quote, "Oh Beth, what HAVE you done?!"
What the hell does that mean? What was that comment in reference to?
Back to feeling embarrassed and shy I went.
Later that afternoon I had a Psychology lesson. It went fine, nothing too hard. When it was the end the group of girls that I occasionally said 'hi' to, were getting ready to go. My teacher asked them to take me, in my wheelchair, with them into the atrium for lunch, to which they nodded.
So they started to walk out, glanced at me, smiling... and carried on walking. There I sat, on my own, billy no-mates.
The shy, awkward little girl returned. Inside, I was shattering to pieces.
I had to leave early that week anyway as I was going up to London for my heart op but after that, I dropped out. I couldn't handle the rejection. Even such a small comment can be so devastating to someone with a brain injury. There are some things that just shouldn't be said. I mean, you don't have to tread on eggshells around me by all means (!) but this was pretty early on in my recovery and my emotions were a mess.
So I emailed the school and officially dropped out. Again.
3 years spent doing more rehab; my walking got better and so did my speech. I felt more confident now. I still struggle with anxiety.
I enrolled at Milton Keynes College in March 2015 and started in September. And I must add, it's one of the best decisions I've ever made. I didn't know how much I really missed being in the education environment until then; learning is such a privilege and it's one that I thankfully, got a second (well, third) chance at. Albeit I'm older now.
Those of you at university; I know you hate the workload and some days it's too hard for you but seriously, (you obviously won't think so) but you are lucky to be where you are. Never take education for granted.
Yes, I admit that some days I cannot be bothered and I'd rather not go in but when it comes down to it, I get on with it. I wanted this.
Returning to education can seem so simple sometimes.
A brain injured individual can't just 'go back'. So much change has happened; physically, emotionally, cognitively. You may think you're ready, your mind may seem altogether but is it?
All I'll say is don't rush anything. Rehab is so important, get yourself where you want to be first. YOU are the most important thing, not anyone else. YOU.